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Doyle v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 10, 2015

JOHN M. DOYLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM IT (Dkt. Nos. 13 and 16)

MARK G. MASTROIANNI, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by Carolyn Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), regarding an individual's entitlement to Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1383(c)(3), respectively. John M. Doyle ("Plaintiff") asserts the Commissioner's decision denying him such benefits-memorialized in an August 5, 2013 decision of an administrative law judge ("ALJ")-was erroneous. Plaintiff has filed a motion to reverse the judgment (Dkt. No. 13), and the United States ("Defendant"), acting on behalf of the Commissioner, has moved to affirm it. (Dkt. No. 16.) The court grants Defendant's motion and denies that of Plaintiff.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for SSDI and SSI benefits on February 9, 2009. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") at 7.) Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on January 10, 2009 due to physical and mental impairments. (Id. at 134-144, 154.) After Plaintiff's application was denied both initially and upon reconsideration, he requested a hearing in front of an ALJ which took place on September 17, 2010. (Id. at 21, 68-71, 80-82.) The ALJ determined the Plaintiff was not disabled. That decision became final and subject to judicial review when the Decision Review Board failed to complete its review in the allotted time. (Id. at 1-19.)

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in U.S. District Court on May 9, 2011. The parties subsequently agreed to remand the case back to the Appeals Council on August 12, 2011. (Id. at 452-455.) The Appeals Council consolidated this claim with pending subsequent applications and a second hearing was scheduled for May 10, 2013. (Id. at 454, 525.)

Plaintiff, who was forty-eight years old at the time of the second hearing, has a high school education and has taken online college courses. (Id. at 52-53, 749, 764-765.) His prior work experience has been that of a stock clerk, machine metal tender, and power transformer assembler. (Id. at 767-769.) Plaintiff claimed physical impairments stemming from his Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, as well as mental health complaints. (Id. at 752-754, 758-759.) Plaintiff testified his symptoms included pain in his lower back, left ankle, hip, and both knees. (Id. at 753.) He claimed sitting or standing for extended periods of time increased this pain. (Id. at 756.) Plaintiff further testified to problems with hearing loss. (Id. at 757.)

With regard to his alleged mental health impairments, Plaintiff asserts he received treatment for depression from 2008 through 2011. (Id. at 759-760.) He stated treatment stopped due to insurance reasons but he testified to current symptoms including feeling tired all the time, having no energy, and experiencing periods where he "just [doesn't] feel like doing anything." (Id. at 759).

Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits, after which the Appeals Council denied review. (Id. at 422-424, 429-451.) Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant action and the parties submitted the cross-motions presently at issue.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The role of a district court reviewing an ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the conclusion was supported by substantial evidence and based on the correct legal standard. See Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The Commissioner has the responsibility of resolving issues of credibility and weighing conflicting evidence. Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). As such, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Substantial evidence means "a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [the Commissioner's] conclusion." Rodriguez, 647 F.2d at 222. This is true "even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion." Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health &Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987).

IV. DISABILITY STANDARD AND THE ALJ'S DECISION

An individual is entitled to SSDI benefits if, among other things, he has an insured status and, prior to its expiration, he was under a disability. Baez v. Astrue, 550 F.Supp.2d 210, 214 (D. Mass. 2008) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A) and (E)). With respect to Plaintiff's claim for SSDI benefits, he must therefore establish disability on or before the last date on which he was insured, December 31, 2012. See id. Entitlement to SSI, on the other hand, requires a showing of both disability and financial need. See 42 U.S.C. §1382.

The Social Security Act (the "Act") defines disability, in part, as the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 ...


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